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Zooka, a neat iPad Bluetooth speaker, and a review of tools to wire-framing user interfaces

Mark Gibbs | June 6, 2013
This week, a collection of goodies. First up for all of you iPad aficionados, a neat wireless Bluetooth speaker called Zooka from Carbon Audio that fits onto the edge of your tablet and boosts your audio volume by about five times (turned up full, that's a sound pressure of 80dB at 1 meter). There's also a built-in microphone so you can take calls if you've paired the Zooka with your iPhone.

The Zooka Bluetooth speaker

The Zooka was a successful Kickstarter project that raised almost three times its target ($70,540 on a goal of $25,000) and, impressively, went from concept to store shelves in just 15 months.

The built-in battery lasts for around 8 hours and the whole device acts as a very comfortable handle for an iPad. The sound quality (150Hz to 20,000Hz) is not at all bad ... a little pale at the bass end perhaps, but full in the middle and crisp at the top end (that sounds a little like wine tasting notes, doesn't it? In fact, that was so good, I need a cigarette). Walmart is now carrying the Zooka for $99.95. I'm impressed and the Zooka gets 5 Gearhead stars out of five.

Next up ... should you have the need to try to tell a developer what you want in terms of a user interface, or maybe you just want to explain roughly how an application is to work from the user's viewpoint, you might resort to doodling on a legal pad.

If you've ever tried this exercise it's a great way to drive yourself crazy: You map out a few controls, realize you've mislabeled one of them and have forgotten to add another one and the order is wrong and ... by the time you're two or three screens into the task you're ready to set the pad of paper on fire.

Nope, a legal pad just won't cut it, so software is definitely the way to go, but what to use?

What we're looking for is what's called "wire-framing", a term that comes from computer graphics. In it's original meaning it was where 3D objects were represented by lines drawn along the vertices of objects; this  was useful because wireframe models are easier to render at high speed than solid models.

The terms "wire-frame" and "wire-framing" have since been appropriated by application designers as the practice of mocking up user interfaces and, while Wikipedia discusses this technique in terms of Web interface design, it can be used to describe mockups of user interfaces on any platform.

What's important about wireframes is they are supposed to convey the elements, overall structure and intentions of a user interface rather than illustrate exactly what it should look like. What a wireframe aims for is not a Photoshop-like WYSIWIG representation, but more like a doodle on the back of a napkin, a kind of a WYSIKWIW (what-you-see-is-kinda-what-I-want).

I've been working on a software project and we were developing our design with the idea that we'd leave the user interface look and feel until later on and concentrate on the "big picture". Unfortunately the potential clients wanted to get an idea of what the system would "feel" like and, not surprisingly, text descriptions of functionality just don't communicate design goals with any immediacy. So I went looking for a tool that I could mock up the user interface with.


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